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Shortages, inflation: East Africa scrambles against coronavirus

By Morris Kiruga, in Nairobi
Posted on Monday, 16 March 2020 10:49

A worker walks outside the coronavirus isolation facility at the Mbagathi Hospital in Nairobi
A worker walks outside the coronavirus isolation facility at the Mbagathi Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya March 15, 2020. REUTERS

East African countries have taken extensive measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, just days after three countries in the region progressively announced 10 confirmed cases.

In a public address on Sunday, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta confirmed that the country had two more positive cases, who had travelled with the patient zero who flew into Nairobi from the United States.

Kigali announced four more positive cases, including a 30-year-old man with no recent travel history.

Two brothers, a 34-year-old who arrived in Rwanda on March 6th from South Sudan, and his 36-year-old brother who arrived from Fiji (via the US and Qatar) two days later, also tested positive.

  • Fiji’s Health Ministry clarified that the country has no confirmed cases of the global pandemic, and that the Rwandan national likely got it from his contact.
  • The fourth man is a Ugandan national who recently travelled from London.

Sudan also confirmed its first positive case last week, which is also the region’s first confirmed fatality from the global pandemic that has claimed almost 5, 000 lives.

The region’s countries are tightening travel restrictions, as they try to balance between maintaining a semblance of normalcy while stopping the potential spread of the pandemic.

  • President Kenyatta suspended learning institutions, and all inbound travel from COVID-19 hotzones except for Kenyan citizens and foreigners with residency permits.
  • Several countries have also banned public gatherings, taking in lessons from the events in Malaysia, South Korea, and other countries where the religious gatherings formed new pandemic clusters.
  • Governments are also urging companies to allow their employees to work from home, while urging critical staff to remain put.
  • Kenyatta also asked mobile money providers to consider reducing transactions costs, which went up after his administration introduced new taxes in 2019.

In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame’s released a video, joining the World Health Organisation’s global #SafeHands campaign.

He also challenged some of his peers in the region – to join the campaign as well.

” I challenge President Kenyatta @StateHouseKenya, @Macky_Sall, @MagufuliJP, President Tshisekedi, @Presidence_RDC, @CyrilRamaphosa, @BorisJohnson, @KGeorgieva to join in by sharing a video” he said in the tweet.

While the response so far has been fast and proactive, greater challenges lie in the weaknesses within public health systems, and the adverse effect the pandemic is having on global supply chains.

In Nairobi, for example, local press reported that healthcare professionals at Mbagathi Hospital, which hosts one of the country’s three isolation centers, had gone on a go-slow.

“The healthcare professionals are citing lack of adequate coronavirus training and little support to protect their families who they go home to every evening after working near patients that are potentially suffering from the virus,” the Daily Nation reported.

Even with a concerted effort at the policy-making level, the short-term risk of uncontrollable spread of the pandemic lies in such weaknesses within the healthcare system.

The region is also bracing for the ripple effects of the pandemic, which began in a region of China three months ago. The pandemic’s effect on global travel has affected supply chains across the world, and as it makes landfall in East Africa, it is likely to worsen looming shortages.

On Saturday, The East African reported significant no-shows at the Ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, which serve most of the East African region.

Some 37 ships scheduled to call at the port of Mombasa in March have already cancelled, and more are expected to follow as the region tries to battle further spread within and outside their individual countries.

Although Dar es Salaam has still not provided numbers of cancelled shippments, they are likely to be high as Chinese companies are only getting back into business when COVID-19 is making landfall in the region.

Bottom line: While the immediate efforts to stem the spread of the pandemic in East Africa have been impressive, the larger picture points to a period of shortages, inflation, and famine.

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